It’s always strange to drive through Dunstable now, and realise how few people-that-I-knew still live there. It’s as if a bomb went off around 1981 and scattered everyone. The blast radius varies. Some only blew to the periphery, the kind of outlying villages that used to have buses that went to our school. Like Leighton Buzzard, Totternhoe, Eaton Bray, Kensworth. But others seem to have been made of a flimsier material and blew to the south coast, way out west, or – in my case – points north.
London was always too much of a thing, where I lived. Dunstable is only around 30 miles north of London, which means nothing these days. It’s still a relatively short commute. I know there are people buying houses near to where I live now, simply because London is “just” two hours away, and there’s a posh school round the corner. Anyway, unless you wanted to work at Vauxhall in Luton or Bedford Trucks in Dumpstable, London was always a place you thought about working. From there, it’s but a short leap to decide that Hemel Hempstead, St. Albans, or Harpenden look nicer.
There aren’t many places uglier than Dumpstable.
Funnily enough, Dunstable was always a little bit of a black hole when it came to people-that-I-knew. Most of the girls I liked back then lived in the outlying areas. Helen P lived in Eaton Bray. Linda R and Juliet M lived in Totternhoe. Jenny H. came all the way from Leighton Buzzard. But this all made a kind of sense, because all of those villages were closer to my school than my house, which was practically in Luton.
So the bomb went off, and everyone is scattered, but a few people have registered on friendsreunited. This web site is old news, except it still throws up the odd thing. And I still look occasionally because I’m still hoping a few of the people-that-I-knew will register.
I have issues, obviously.
The main one is, I remember surprisingly little about stuff that happened when I was 17-going-on-18. I’ve tried to work out why this is, and I have a few theories, but nothing solid. One thing I’d sort of forgotten, I had glandular fever (mononucleosis) for the last few weeks of 1980. But I don’t really remember when that started. Could have been October, but possibly as late as November. The other thing is that I was very mean to people sometimes and I might have conveniently forgotten just how badly I treated some people.
I reserved all my affection for the people who were almost completely indifferent to me. Anyone who showed the slightest bit of interest in me or affection towards me were summarily dismissed.
The worst example of this, of course, was Linda R, though in her case the third factor was the fact that she was dating my so-called best friend. I have blanked a large part of why I lost touch with Linda, but I’m certain that it had a lot to do with me being a twat.
As far as other people are concerned, the blank spaces are deeper and wider.
As you may remember, not long ago I was randomly invited to a surprise 40th birthday party. The inviter was someone I never knew, now married to Fiona W from school. I decided, probably wisely, that I would not turn up and embarrass the bejesus out of her, mainly because I couldn’t remember much about her at all.
I remembered she had red hair, and was quite attractive. I also recalled getting along with her quite well in the week of the sixth form biology field trip. Some vivid memories of that week, not all of them good, but enough. One fragmented memory is of a sort of ruckus going on in the youth hostel dormitory, which culminated in a quickly snatched kiss – with her doing the snatching.
It would have been about this point that I started to emotionally withdraw from her, on the grounds that she was showing interest in me. If she turned up at my front door, like Julie E had a few years earlier, I’d have closed the door on her face, no matter how far she’d walked.
Also Paula B was there that week, and I was almost certainly pinning all my hopes on her, on the basis that she had no interest in me and was already dating Kerry Dixon. So there’s huge blank space after the snatched kiss, after that week, and I’m almost certain that that means I was unforgivably horrible to Fiona quite soon after.
This, among other things, is something I would like to put right. For too long I operated under a policy of not looking back, of burning bridges, of Being Here Now and forgetting the past. Taken as a whole, my teenage behaviour owed too much to being unhappy at home and taking it out on everybody else. Obviously you can’t go back, but it feels odd to be 40 and not to really have any friends my own age. That is strange. There are certain levels of conversation you can’t get to with people 10 years younger than yourself. You hit the obvious barriers of having grown up in slightly different eras, and then you hit the obvious barriers of people just not being that interested.
So. These are the names I look out for on friendsreunited. Linda R is the main. I’ll write more on her another day. Fiona was actually one of them; I can’t really explain why, except perhaps a vague feeling that something went wrong too early on and it has left an empty space. But now having not turned up to her surprise party, and yet having replied to the invitation, the ball is in her court. Were I too, say, use the address I was given for the party location, it would be too much like stalking.
Mostly it’s a disappointment, friendsreunited. You read all the so-called success stories. But the few people I’ve been in touch with as a result haven’t exactly been enthusiastic. This is not surprising, given my largely hostile treatment of them back then. But I feel I’m trying to beat a path halfway between complete lack of interest and Sad Bloke with No Friends. Somewhere in the middle is where I am, interested in exchanging news, and keen, where possible, to issue apologies. I don’t want to move house to be closer to people, or have their phone numbers so I can bug them at work. Don’t even, most of the time, want to meet up for that drink. But somewhere out there, there’s a bunch of people who are my 40-year-old friends. Sure, over the years we’ve gone our separate ways and we don’t see much of each other anymore, but we have enough shared history to be able to pass the time when there’s time, and make sympathetic noises.